The Junior College Again

IN the April number of the Atlantic I attacked the Junior College as a backward step in American education. If unrestrained it would abolish the proud distinction between American and foreign universities. With us more than half of our college men are not aiming at a professional life and yet are ready to devote four years to cultural study. That is a condition unknown abroad. We draw no sharp dividing line between our scholars and our business men. All over our country are scattered men whom I call amateur scholars, men who have tasted scholarship, have enjoyed it, have become through it centres of light and leading in their several communities, and when prosperous — as they usually are — become the chief founders and financial support of our higher institutions of learning. These intellectual aristocrats, of inestimable value in our democratic society, are to be swept away; for as soon as the work of the freshman and sophomore years is done in Junior Colleges, universities will drop those years from their curriculum and devote themselves entirely to professional study.

I do not intend to discuss this matter further. I have said all I wanted to say, my aim being merely to stir up criticism of which I felt there had been from the start disproportionately little. The growth of the hardly noticed start into a torrent made me fear that people were accepting it as a matter of course and trying to be content. But I was much mistaken. A multitude of letters have come to me from persons whom I do not know and from nearly every state in the Union. Almost uniformly they tell of the harm done them or their children by a Junior College and express gratitude that someone has at last spoken out and bidden our educators stop and think about ultimate consequences. I shall not at tempt to summarize their stories. Too few years are now left me for other work I mean to do. But one of their requests is altogether courteous and fair. They ask, What can we do about it? What means have we for checking its wider spread? This question of remedies I did not touch in my original paper. Here I will set down half a dozen brief suggestions on this single point.

1. Haverford and several other colleges pay no attention to the Junior College. They accept no certificates. Whoever applies for entrance to the junior year, no matter where he comes from, must first pass all previous examinations — that is, that for entering college, for closing the freshman year, and for closing the sophomore year. A single standard of quality is required of all who seek advanced standing. Junior Colleges will not flourish under such a system. They live on certificates.

2. Junior Colleges are expensive. They increase taxation, and therefore voters can directly control them. In a town near Cambridge the city council this spring voted $600,000 for putting Junior Colleges into all its high schools, subject, however, to a referendum. A house-to-house canvass was then carried on by friends and foes of the measure. When the final vote was taken, it stood two to one against. That is our chief defense against this unAmerican education — debate. When fully understood it withers.

3.Parents as well as voters have the matter in their own hands. At graduation from a high school, usually at eighteen or nineteen, a boy or girl is in a somewhat dangerous mental state. The sense of his own personality has begun to assert itself. The desire to secure a large share of independence is urgent. It is a transition time between childhood and youth. To continue throughout it the routine training of the school is likely to stop growth and permanently cheapen intelligence.

On this point there is a reply to my arguments so frequent and so absurd that it deserves a moment’s notice. Many of my correspondents urge that the colleges are overcrowded, and that, too, by the incompetent as well as by the competent. The Junior College is a capital place to put the former, those who would get nothing out of a real college if they ever went to one. Undoubtedly such a receptacle for dullards would bring welcome relief to the colleges. But who is to judge that these persons are incompetent, fit only to be shut up in outer darkness? Who but the candidates themselves? The decision rests with them or their parents. And if their incompetence is already plain, will it be thought worth while to spend time, toil, and money in aiming at a goal they do not want? No, the Junior College will be populated with pretty much the same average as the college itself, though I can well believe that after two years of it less intellectual energy may be noticed among its graduates.

4. The critical time in a child’s life that I have just called his transitional period has received much prominence in German literature under the title of the period of Sturm und Drang. It is a period of upheaval, quarrel, and discontent. No wonder, then, that parents, seeing the one they love so upset, should wish to keep him near them and not send him away to college. I believe this to be a grave error. Lasting alienations come easily at this time. A parent will keep closer to his child at a distance than if near at hand. Fortunately my father was keenly alive to these dangers and formulated for himself the maxim that every child that had been properly brought up should be turned out of the house at twelve. That was the age — I think a little unnecessarily early — when nearly all of us set up life for ourselves. And it would be impossible to find a more united family. Home was always thought of as a blessed place. We wrote to our parents or to one another every week and heard from them as often. But we did not hear the continual ‘Don’t do this’ of the home-kept child. Most of the evils of the Junior College can be best met by sending the child away from home as soon as he leaves the high school. In those next years the young experimenter will be doing much that his parents cannot approve but should not reprove. In education come times when it is best not to notice but to be simply looking another way. Junior Colleges make mischief through restraint.

5. Many of my correspondents suggest that a culture college offers superfluous knowledge and ask whether the small number of studies to be had in a Junior College would not be practically sufficient, for most needs. No! Business in our day is not merely handing out goods over a counter. It is largely an affair of brains and swift observation. A business man, if he is to rise, needs much more than acquaintance with his wares. In life everywhere it is the ‘over and above’ that counts and leads to power. Most business men who are without the broad background wish they had had it and acknowledge the lack as an obstacle. Of course it is an obstacle that, like most others, genius can overcome, but the hindrance is there. Do not let the brief list of studies roughly taught in the Junior College mislead parents into sending their sons there.

6. Do not be misled by names. All over the country vocational schools are springing up, schools where in a couple of years one receives special training in play-writing, oratory, business administration, and so forth. They are mostly useful in aim and are often ably conducted. Among the most valuable of them is that which equips a girl for demands of the home. Unfortunately these vocational schools sometimes call themselves Junior Colleges. They may be well worth attending for their own domestic purposes, but one must not expect to find in them a substitute for the first two years of a college course.

But enough of remedial grumblings. Perhaps I have taken Junior Colleges too seriously. Several of my correspondents allege that they are only advertisements for real-estate speculation. That is why they most abound in the least settled parts of our country. The incipient village seeks to attract settlers by declaring that it has all the ‘fixin’s’; as years ago, when a land boom was on in Missouri, Nevada, and Dakota, the prospector of a little township in one of these states announced that his ‘city’ had four colleges and the logs already cut for a fifth. I do not believe such practices are common in my beloved Pacific Coast states, but agree that we should look with a jealous eye on so-called ‘improvements’ in education. Mistakes here fall hardest on our poorer classes. We who are in easier circumstances should regard ourselves as trustees for them. We can inform ourselves and get the education we want elsewhere if not at home. But one of the chief hardships of the poor is that they are tied to a single spot and must take what they are told is good.

In defense of the magnificent American experiment of democracy I felt called on to stir up criticism over the Junior College. The unpleasant task is ended, and with a quieter conscience I may now return to my library.